MAUNDY THURSDAY | Wash One Another’s Feet
Early this Lenten season, Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry encouraged us to celebrate the power that God’s love has to transform this world and to actively seek the holy every day. Episcopal Relief & Development is pleased to share a Maundy Thursday story to help guide us as we follow in the steps of Jesus.
I feel very strongly about foot washing. My feelings around foot washing are not particularly popular. There is around me a certain pressure to give people space, a feeling that I should not insist that people who show up to church on Maundy Thursday participate, that people should be made to feel invited and comfortable, that foot washing in the times of Jesus had a cultural meaning that western Christians cannot truly appreciate, etc., etc., and so we should just let it be. My gut reaction to all of these very hospitable solutions to the awkwardness of foot washing is to slyly roll my eyes and mutter under my breath, in a most fourteen year-old exaggerated tone, “What-ever.”
Of course this reaction is not helpful, and almost no one agrees with me, so I keep my mouth shut and my eyeballs in place. But the thoughts are there. The judging is there. The passion is there.
To be clear, I neither enjoy nor look forward to foot washing. Not on Maundy Thursday, not ever. The only time I want my feet washed by another person is when I am getting a pedicure. The only time I want to wash someone else’s feet is – never. My actual favorite part of the Maundy Thursday service is the Stripping of the Altar. This ceremonial act of clearing away any trace of Jesus or our lives in him is what undoes me each and every year. The sight of the bare altar and the darkened sanctuary is such a stark reminder of what my life would look like had Jesus of Nazareth never been; a life void of mystery, of hope, of light.
And yet, he was, and he is, and I (and you) do have the gifts of mystery, of hope and light. Which brings us back to foot washing. On the night of the Last Supper, we hear these words from Jesus himself:
“So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.’ (John 13: 14-15, NRSV)
It is clear from the text that the disciples were uncomfortable with Jesus washing their feet. He clearly tells them that this is what is required as his followers.
“I don’t really feel like it” or “this is awkward” were valid excuses. Jesus clearly tells the motley crew of twelve that they (and subsequently us) must serve each other, over and over and over again – just as he has done – in intimate and awkward ways. They must lower themselves, time and time again, in service to each other, for the sake of Jesus’ love – a love that is the way to abundant life, to freedom and to reconciliation.
Foot washing will never be natural to me. It will never be my preferred way of following Jesus. But I cannot get away from my conviction that to truly follow Jesus means that I must be willing to be uncomfortable, inconvenienced and utterly awkward. And so, each and every Maundy Thursday, I step out into the aisle and I walk forward. Not because I want to, but because I need to. Because just as Jesus did, so too, must I.
Read other Easter stories:
Good Friday | You Just Have To Make Camp by Allison Duvall
Ash Wednesday | God Loves Us Even In Our Dustiness by Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry
Jerusalem Greer is an author and the minister for formation and connection at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Conway, Arkansas. Jerusalem has partnered with the Presiding Bishop’s Evangelism Team, as a consulting evangelist and as a member of the working group on the Way of Love.